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Black Swan: A Movie Review

By Gabe Delahaye / December 6, 2010 - 2:00 pm

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a critique of Black Swan per se, but can we burn the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 movie theater in New York to the ground? That place is such a disaster. Every time that I go to see a movie there, I am just like, whoops, this is a nightmare, NEVER FORGET. And then somehow I ALWAYS FORGET. They should sell shot glasses in Chinatown with the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 getting hit by an airplane so that when I drink I can remember never to see a movie there again. Look, I’m sorry to go on and on about this, but that place has bed bugs. And if it doesn’t have bed bugs, it should be burned to the ground just in case. CDC-style. You can take out all of Union Square as far as I’m concerned. Be on the safe side. There are a lot of wonderful things about New York City, but being incapable of finding a seat at a movie that costs $13 when you show up half an hour early seems kind of inhuman. Admittedly, this was not quite as bad as when we showed up to Avatar TWO HOURS EARLY and were AT THE BACK OF THE LINE, but still. I’ve had it. I went to see Black Swan with a friend of mine, and we could not sit together, but not only that, we both had to sit in miserable seats in the very frontest section of the theater. Like, those are the seats reserved for steerage class in the movie Titanic. Someone’s playing a bouzouki and everyone pretends like they aren’t getting bitten by rats when in reality they are getting straight eaten up by those rats. I know it’s a couple of weeks early, but this weekend I started working on my New Year’s resolution to never go see a movie at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 ever again, and I really think this year it’s going to stick!

Anyway, Black Swan. Pretty good!

Black Swan is basically All About Eve told in reverse order for a 3D world on the brink of Apocalypse. (I mean, look.) It’s about the ravages of fame, and the self-destructive nature of desire, and the all-consuming exploitative nature of art. It’s a movie about the psycho-sexual nightmare of being a woman. And it’s about growing feathers out of your back and being really bad at clipping your nails. Natalie Portman plays Nina, an up-and-coming young ballerina at Lincoln Center who lives with her HORRORSHOW of a stage mom and wants nothing more than the lead role in the upcoming production of Swan Lake now that Beth (Winona Ryder) is retiring. At first, it doesn’t seem like she’s going to get the part, but then she does get the part, so that was easy enough. But now that she has the part, the part is killing her! For one thing, it’s making her feet DISGUSTING. If there is anything that I learned from Black Swan it is that you must NEVER remove a pair of Capezios. They’re on there for a reason.

But in addition to her feet and also a rash on her shoulder and also hangnails, it’s messing with her mind. (And perhaps these physical problems are just extensions of her emotional problems, have you ever considered THAT?) She’s having hallucinations and panic sweats and is racked with crippling self-doubt and paranoid delusions. There’s a new girl in the company, Lily, played by Mila Kunis, who keeps trying to befriend her, but once they do become friends–and boy oh boy, when Natalie Portman makes a new friend, she REALLY MAKES A NEW FRIEND (fucking)–it becomes increasingly clear that Mila Kunis is trying to destroy Natalie Portman. Or is she? IT’S VERY HARD TO TELL. ALSO WHAT WAS THAT LOUD NOISE JUST NOW. Meanwhile, the ballet director Vincent Cassel is a real jerk! (Good movie criticism sentence.)

It’s also basically Fight Club for girls. But, like, if Fight Club was a fucking nightmare. “I want you to creep me out as hard as you can.” Having not read any reviews of this movie prior to watching it, I did not realize it was so scary. Yikes! I mean, there aren’t any monsters in it, or any floppy sack masks, but it was still pretty spooky stuff. We’re clearly dealing with a Classic Unreliable Narrator here, which means not only that we can never be sure of how true her paranoiac delusions about Mila Kunis et al actually are, but it’s kind of unclear whether Mila Kunis even exists. I mean, she does, I guess, but does she? She does. BUT DOES SHE?!

Perhaps the biggest “problem” with Black Swan, and it’s not necessarily a problem, depending on what your expectations are when it comes to popular entertainment, but it’s certainly a question, which is what is Natalie Portman’s endgame here? What do we, as an audience, hope for her? Because she’s pretty fucking unbearable. She’s cold, entirely self-absorbed, repressed, rude, small in a mean way, lashes out constantly, feels entitled to her “fame,” and is obsessively focused on achieving “perfection.” Kind of a gross combo. I guess not everyone feels this way. Certainly near the end of the film when she makes the necessary sacrifices in order to become a star some people in the theater cheered. But again, that theater is the worst. But if you think about it, perhaps this is the whole point of the movie: that it’s in intractable and unwinnable war to engage in with one’s self in the first place. If Nina “wins,” she becomes a (more) horrible person. If she “fails,” she becomes an irreparably broken person. It’s called a quagmire, look it up.

Also: the ending, you have to admit if you have seen it, and/or you will have to admit when you see it, is a little bit ON THE NOSE.

Black Swan is definitely one of those college movies that I’m more happy to have seen than to have watched, if that distinction makes sense. Like, it’s a “good” movie but at no point during it was I like “oh fun, I am enjoying myself.” I was just like, “are they done with the fingernails yet? Will someone please tell me when they’re done with the fingernails? Just have a bed bug bite me on my eyeball so I know.”

ART IS HARD!